Parthian relief of Mithridates 1st of Parthia at Xong-e Ashdar.
City of Izeh, Khouzestan province, Iran.


A larger image of this Parthian relief of Mithridates 1st of Parthia at Xong-e Ashdar


Following the artistic path of the Lullubies, Elamites, Achaemenian Persian, and Seleucids, the Parthian rulers used the ancient Iranian art of rock relief to mark the foundation of their new empire, and carved many of their reliefs on previous Elamite, Lullubies, or Achaemenian sites such as Bisotun, Izeh, or Sarpol-e Zahab, as an affirmation of continuity with previous Iranian dynasties.

On an artistic point, several differences distinguish the Parthian art of rock relief:

1) Compared to the Achaemenian reliefs, results of a very official imperial art, the Parthian reliefs are more a provincial issue, ordered by local princes and carved by local artists, concentrated in the south of ancient Kurdistan (actual Kermanshah province), and in the ancient Elymaid (Bakhtiari mountains in Khouzestan).

2) Their themes are profane, and not religious. They introduce sceneries of resting, pleasure (drinking), hunting, and animal figures such as horses, and strongly influenced the later themes of the Sasanian Persian rock reliefs. The influence from the Greeks remains important, as Greek inscriptions or Nike goddess figures of winged victories testify.

3) Their fashion is rude (not deeply carved), representations are static and frontal, fixing the spectator with big wide opened eyes.
The Xong-e Ashdar rock relief is very important, being the first carved by the Parthians. The site chosen is Izeh, the ancient Elamite city of Ayapir, which hosts several Elamite rock reliefs. The relief was carved on an isolated rock, on the opposite side from a little Elamite relief. It shows Noblemen, princes, or courtiers paying allegence to a horseman, identified as being Mithidates 1st of Parthia. The relief also has two artistic particularities: first representation of a horse, and rare profile representation of a character. While the king parades on his horse followed by a servant walking, the courtiers either pay him respect by elevating an arm or join their hands in a humble attitude. Their baggy trousers are still worn in Iran. A winged Nike flies over the scene, blessing the winner. A similar scene was carved at Behistun.

Photo by Pentocelo


See also Effigy of a Parthian Man, Iran, 1st–2nd century AD, Susa Museum of Iran
Parthian horse-archer plaque, Mesopotamia. Palazzo Madama, Turin
Seleucid or Parthian Cataphract and a Lion, Iraq, 3rd Century BC-2nd Century AD
Other Parthian Illustrations of Costume & Soldiers


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